The Federalist Papers | Federalist No. 70
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The Federalist Papers | Federalist No. 70


FEDERALIST No. 70. The Executive Department Further Considered From The Independent Journal. Saturday, March 15, 1788. HAMILTON
To the People of the State of New York: THERE is an idea, which is not without its
advocates, that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government. The enlightened well-wishers to this species
of government must at least hope that the supposition is destitute of foundation; since
they can never admit its truth, without at the same time admitting the condemnation of
their own principles. Energy in the Executive is a leading character
in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community
against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws;
to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which
sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against
the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy. Every man the least conversant in Roman story,
knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a
single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of
ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the
community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions
of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome. There can be no need, however, to multiply
arguments or examples on this head. A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution
of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for
a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in
practice, a bad government. Taking it for granted, therefore, that all
men of sense will agree in the necessity of an energetic Executive, it will only remain
to inquire, what are the ingredients which constitute this energy? How far can they be combined with those other
ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense? And how far does this combination characterize
the plan which has been reported by the convention? The ingredients which constitute energy in
the Executive are, first, unity; secondly, duration; thirdly, an adequate provision for
its support; fourthly, competent powers. The ingredients which constitute safety in
the republican sense are, first, a due dependence on the people, secondly, a due responsibility. Those politicians and statesmen who have been
the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justice of their views,
have declared in favor of a single Executive and a numerous legislature. They have with great propriety, considered
energy as the most necessary qualification of the former, and have regarded this as most
applicable to power in a single hand, while they have, with equal propriety, considered
the latter as best adapted to deliberation and wisdom, and best calculated to conciliate
the confidence of the people and to secure their privileges and interests. That unity is conducive to energy will not
be disputed. Decision, activity, secrecy, and despatch
will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than
the proceedings of any greater number; and in proportion as the number is increased,
these qualities will be diminished. This unity may be destroyed in two ways: either
by vesting the power in two or more magistrates of equal dignity and authority; or by vesting
it ostensibly in one man, subject, in whole or in part, to the control and co-operation
of others, in the capacity of counsellors to him. Of the first, the two Consuls of Rome may
serve as an example; of the last, we shall find examples in the constitutions of several
of the States. New York and New Jersey, if I recollect right,
are the only States which have intrusted the executive authority wholly to single men.(1)
Both these methods of destroying the unity of the Executive have their partisans; but
the votaries of an executive council are the most numerous. They are both liable, if not to equal, to
similar objections, and may in most lights be examined in conjunction. The experience of other nations will afford
little instruction on this head. As far, however, as it teaches any thing,
it teaches us not to be enamoured of plurality in the Executive. We have seen that the Achaeans, on an experiment
of two Praetors, were induced to abolish one. The Roman history records many instances of
mischiefs to the republic from the dissensions between the Consuls, and between the military
Tribunes, who were at times substituted for the Consuls. But it gives us no specimens of any peculiar
advantages derived to the state from the circumstance of the plurality of those magistrates. That the dissensions between them were not
more frequent or more fatal, is a matter of astonishment, until we advert to the singular
position in which the republic was almost continually placed, and to the prudent policy
pointed out by the circumstances of the state, and pursued by the Consuls, of making a division
of the government between them. The patricians engaged in a perpetual struggle
with the plebeians for the preservation of their ancient authorities and dignities; the
Consuls, who were generally chosen out of the former body, were commonly united by the
personal interest they had in the defense of the privileges of their order. In addition to this motive of union, after
the arms of the republic had considerably expanded the bounds of its empire, it became
an established custom with the Consuls to divide the administration between themselves
by lot—one of them remaining at Rome to govern the city and its environs, the other
taking the command in the more distant provinces. This expedient must, no doubt, have had great
influence in preventing those collisions and rivalships which might otherwise have embroiled
the peace of the republic. But quitting the dim light of historical research,
attaching ourselves purely to the dictates of reason and good sense, we shall discover
much greater cause to reject than to approve the idea of plurality in the Executive, under
any modification whatever. Wherever two or more persons are engaged in
any common enterprise or pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion. If it be a public trust or office, in which
they are clothed with equal dignity and authority, there is peculiar danger of personal emulation
and even animosity. From either, and especially from all these
causes, the most bitter dissensions are apt to spring. Whenever these happen, they lessen the respectability,
weaken the authority, and distract the plans and operation of those whom they divide. If they should unfortunately assail the supreme
executive magistracy of a country, consisting of a plurality of persons, they might impede
or frustrate the most important measures of the government, in the most critical emergencies
of the state. And what is still worse, they might split
the community into the most violent and irreconcilable factions, adhering differently to the different
individuals who composed the magistracy. Men often oppose a thing, merely because they
have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they
dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have
happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty
of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor,
and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved
upon contrary to their sentiments. Men of upright, benevolent tempers have too
many opportunities of remarking, with horror, to what desperate lengths this disposition
is sometimes carried, and how often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the
vanity, to the conceit, and to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to
make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind. Perhaps the question now before the public
may, in its consequences, afford melancholy proofs of the effects of this despicable frailty,
or rather detestable vice, in the human character. Upon the principles of a free government,
inconveniences from the source just mentioned must necessarily be submitted to in the formation
of the legislature; but it is unnecessary, and therefore unwise, to introduce them into
the constitution of the Executive. It is here too that they may be most pernicious. In the legislature, promptitude of decision
is oftener an evil than a benefit. The differences of opinion, and the jarrings
of parties in that department of the government, though they may sometimes obstruct salutary
plans, yet often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses
in the majority. When a resolution too is once taken, the opposition
must be at an end. That resolution is a law, and resistance to
it punishable. But no favorable circumstances palliate or
atone for the disadvantages of dissension in the executive department. Here, they are pure and unmixed. There is no point at which they cease to operate. They serve to embarrass and weaken the execution
of the plan or measure to which they relate, from the first step to the final conclusion
of it. They constantly counteract those qualities
in the Executive which are the most necessary ingredients in its composition—vigor and
expedition, and this without any counterbalancing good. In the conduct of war, in which the energy
of the Executive is the bulwark of the national security, every thing would be to be apprehended
from its plurality. It must be confessed that these observations
apply with principal weight to the first case supposed—that is, to a plurality of magistrates
of equal dignity and authority a scheme, the advocates for which are not likely to form
a numerous sect; but they apply, though not with equal, yet with considerable weight to
the project of a council, whose concurrence is made constitutionally necessary to the
operations of the ostensible Executive. An artful cabal in that council would be able
to distract and to enervate the whole system of administration. If no such cabal should exist, the mere diversity
of views and opinions would alone be sufficient to tincture the exercise of the executive
authority with a spirit of habitual feebleness and dilatoriness. (But one of the weightiest objections to a
plurality in the Executive, and which lies as much against the last as the first plan,
is, that it tends to conceal faults and destroy responsibility. Responsibility is of two kinds—to censure
and to punishment. The first is the more important of the two,
especially in an elective office. Man, in public trust, will much oftener act
in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted, than in such
a manner as to make him obnoxious to legal punishment. But the multiplication of the Executive adds
to the difficulty of detection in either case. It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual
accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure,
or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so
much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense
about the real author. The circumstances which may have led to any
national miscarriage or misfortune are sometimes so complicated that, where there are a number
of actors who may have had different degrees and kinds of agency, though we may clearly
see upon the whole that there has been mismanagement, yet it may be impracticable to pronounce to
whose account the evil which may have been incurred is truly chargeable.)(E1)
(But one of the weightiest objections to a plurality in the Executive, and which lies
as much against the last as the first plan, is, that it tends to conceal faults and destroy
responsibility. Responsibility is of two kinds—to censure
and to punishment. The first is the more important of the two,
especially in an elective office. Man, in public trust, will much oftener act
in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted, than in such
a manner as to make him obnoxious to legal punishment. But the multiplication of the Executive adds
to the difficulty of detection in either case. It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual
accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure,
or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so
much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense
about the real author. The circumstances which may have led to any
national miscarriage or misfortune are sometimes so complicated that, where there are a number
of actors who may have had different degrees and kinds of agency, though we may clearly
see upon the whole that there has been mismanagement, yet it may be impracticable to pronounce to
whose account the evil which may have been incurred is truly chargeable.)(E1)
“I was overruled by my council. The council were so divided in their opinions
that it was impossible to obtain any better resolution on the point.” These and similar pretexts are constantly
at hand, whether true or false. And who is there that will either take the
trouble or incur the odium, of a strict scrutiny into the secret springs of the transaction? Should there be found a citizen zealous enough
to undertake the unpromising task, if there happen to be collusion between the parties
concerned, how easy it is to clothe the circumstances with so much ambiguity, as to render it uncertain
what was the precise conduct of any of those parties? In the single instance in which the governor
of this State is coupled with a council—that is, in the appointment to offices, we have
seen the mischiefs of it in the view now under consideration. Scandalous appointments to important offices
have been made. Some cases, indeed, have been so flagrant
that ALL PARTIES have agreed in the impropriety of the thing. When inquiry has been made, the blame has
been laid by the governor on the members of the council, who, on their part, have charged
it upon his nomination; while the people remain altogether at a loss to determine, by whose
influence their interests have been committed to hands so unqualified and so manifestly
improper. In tenderness to individuals, I forbear to
descend to particulars. It is evident from these considerations, that
the plurality of the Executive tends to deprive the people of the two greatest securities
they can have for the faithful exercise of any delegated power, first, the restraints
of public opinion, which lose their efficacy, as well on account of the division of the
censure attendant on bad measures among a number, as on account of the uncertainty on
whom it ought to fall; and, second, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness
the misconduct of the persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office
or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it. In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate;
and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable
for his administration, and his person sacred. Nothing, therefore, can be wiser in that kingdom,
than to annex to the king a constitutional council, who may be responsible to the nation
for the advice they give. Without this, there would be no responsibility
whatever in the executive department an idea inadmissible in a free government. But even there the king is not bound by the
resolutions of his council, though they are answerable for the advice they give. He is the absolute master of his own conduct
in the exercise of his office, and may observe or disregard the counsel given to him at his
sole discretion. But in a republic, where every magistrate
ought to be personally responsible for his behavior in office the reason which in the
British Constitution dictates the propriety of a council, not only ceases to apply, but
turns against the institution. In the monarchy of Great Britain, it furnishes
a substitute for the prohibited responsibility of the chief magistrate, which serves in some
degree as a hostage to the national justice for his good behavior. In the American republic, it would serve to
destroy, or would greatly diminish, the intended and necessary responsibility of the Chief
Magistrate himself. The idea of a council to the Executive, which
has so generally obtained in the State constitutions, has been derived from that maxim of republican
jealousy which considers power as safer in the hands of a number of men than of a single
man. If the maxim should be admitted to be applicable
to the case, I should contend that the advantage on that side would not counterbalance the
numerous disadvantages on the opposite side. But I do not think the rule at all applicable
to the executive power. I clearly concur in opinion, in this particular,
with a writer whom the celebrated Junius pronounces to be “deep, solid, and ingenious,” that “the
executive power is more easily confined when it is ONE”;(2) that it is far more safe there
should be a single object for the jealousy and watchfulness of the people; and, in a
word, that all multiplication of the Executive is rather dangerous than friendly to liberty. A little consideration will satisfy us, that
the species of security sought for in the multiplication of the Executive, is unattainable. Numbers must be so great as to render combination
difficult, or they are rather a source of danger than of security. The united credit and influence of several
individuals must be more formidable to liberty, than the credit and influence of either of
them separately. When power, therefore, is placed in the hands
of so small a number of men, as to admit of their interests and views being easily combined
in a common enterprise, by an artful leader, it becomes more liable to abuse, and more
dangerous when abused, than if it be lodged in the hands of one man; who, from the very
circumstance of his being alone, will be more narrowly watched and more readily suspected,
and who cannot unite so great a mass of influence as when he is associated with others. The Decemvirs of Rome, whose name denotes
their number,(3) were more to be dreaded in their usurpation than any ONE of them would
have been. No person would think of proposing an Executive
much more numerous than that body; from six to a dozen have been suggested for the number
of the council. The extreme of these numbers, is not too great
for an easy combination; and from such a combination America would have more to fear, than from
the ambition of any single individual. A council to a magistrate, who is himself
responsible for what he does, are generally nothing better than a clog upon his good intentions,
are often the instruments and accomplices of his bad and are almost always a cloak to
his faults. I forbear to dwell upon the subject of expense;
though it be evident that if the council should be numerous enough to answer the principal
end aimed at by the institution, the salaries of the members, who must be drawn from their
homes to reside at the seat of government, would form an item in the catalogue of public
expenditures too serious to be incurred for an object of equivocal utility. I will only add that, prior to the appearance
of the Constitution, I rarely met with an intelligent man from any of the States, who
did not admit, as the result of experience, that the UNITY of the executive of this State
was one of the best of the distinguishing features of our constitution. PUBLIUS

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